One of the many joys of living on Florida's southeast coast is the proximity of numerous island escapes, some less than sixty miles away. A short boat ride or a fifteen-minute flight can transport you to a different culture and another world, where a laid-back lifestyle is juxtaposed with full-throttle adventure. (Naturally, my exploits have been more of the full-throttle variety, with the typical "vacation" day consisting of a 5 a.m. wake-up call, light breakfast, reef dive, some fishing, quick lunch, more fishing, afternoon dive, trolling for sailfish, big dinner and deep sleep.)
I've frequented the Bahamas since the late 1980s, when my wife, Laura, and I moved from Orlando to North Palm Beach before eventually settling in Hobe Sound. Some of my early adventures took me to exotic spots including Norman's Cay, a former haven for drug traffickers. Most who knew the island's history steered clear of it, which meant we found ample fishing and diving spots and an absence of people. The perfect retreat!
I started extending my stays in the Caribbean when I got larger vessels capable of longer trips. I remember one adventure on a sea bridge between San Salvador and Little San Salvador. On either side of this bridge, the water plunges to more than 6,000 feet deep. As U.S. Navy submarines transition across the bridge, they must surface due to the shallow water, and on one enjoyable occasion we ran parallel to a Los Angelesclass submarine as it crossed. Following some lively banter with the sub's commander on a VHF radio, we were asked to stand back 300 yards as the sub powered up. Only then did we realize that we were already cruising at thirty-plus knots, which makes one wonder just what speeds an attack submarine of this caliber can reach.
Today, the possibilities for investing in the Bahamas and the Caribbean are better than ever. While in the past, governments tended to stifle growth—particularly in regard to financing and approvals—the islands are now much more accessible and user-friendly. There is a strong desire to increase island revenue and employment, and I think it is wonderful that the game of golf can be a catalyst for economic prosperity.
Course design in the islands is unique. On the surface, you have the opportunity to sculpt truly magical parcels of land. However, that is accompanied by a host of challenges— notably unpredictable weather. Several of our projects have taken direct hits from hurricanes that, in some cases, forced us to start over. Still, I am elated to have parlayed my zest for this area into several successful designs.
My first Caribbean design was the River course at the Westin Rio Mar in Puerto Rico, which excited me because of its unique topography. In a short distance you go from oceanfront to dramatic heights in the El Yunque Mountains. The seventeenth hole stands out in my mind for the way it uses existing natural elements—it has a beach bunker, for example, that changes dramatically with the tidal flow.
Sea views are always exciting. At Great Exuma, in the Bahamas, six of the holes we built hug Emerald Bay, and the course finishes on a rocky peninsula. A big challenge here was the availability of freshwater, so we used a saltwater-tolerant paspalum grass, and here's an interesting testimonial for it: When Hurricane Wilma ripped through Cancún last fall, it dumped more than seventy inches of rain on El Camaleón at Mayakoba, another of our courses, also grassed with paspalum. As soon as the floodwaters retreated, the course was playable. In fact, it had a lush green color that we had not seen before.
Some other fun things we're developing include the Temenos Golf Club in Anguilla, which will include an 18,000-square-foot double green; and the rebirth of the South Ocean Club in the Bahamas, which will have two holes featuring "blue holes" (small natural ponds that are actually deep shafts connected to the ocean). Le Paradis Praslin Bay on St. Lucia features strategically positioned holes on sheer cliffs that sit hundreds of feet above the ocean, including a 175-yard par three to a green that juts out over Galet Bay—on three sides, there's a 100-foot drop to the Atlantic.
But our most unique project is on Royal Island, a 500-acre uninhabited outpost thirty miles off of Nassau. It's being transformed into a remarkable golf and residential retreat, accessible only by boat and helicopter. Talk about island golf!